From my diary

I’m off to Oxford on Thursday.  I shall make a day trip of it, and if the sun shines it will be very pleasant. 

Getting to Oxford is not as easy as it might be.  It is unlikely to cost less than 40 GBP in petrol. The Oxford City Council will meanly charge me another 20 GBP to park there.  (Both charges are mainly tax, and seem to be levied out of spite rather than to fund necessary works; the latter, indeed, go undone).  The actual journey from London is simple; straight up the M40. 

Once there, my first stop will be to try to sell some academic books.  For some time I have been weeding out books that I never use, and piling them into a heap.  Most are patristic.  There are 20-odd Sources Chretiennes volumes of Tertullian, all in mint condition.  There are half a dozen Italian translations of his works also.  There are also some classical texts, and one or two items such as “C.S.Lewis at the BBC”.  I’ve just counted them, and there are 73.  Such a lot of money spent… and on items that in truth I have hardly used!

Then I shall go onto the Bodleian.  The medieval Greek commentaries made up of patristic quotes were largely printed in the 16th and 17th centuries, and are themselves hard to find now.  They have one which I have never been able to access, and which contains some fragments of Eusebius.  The Bodleian can be hard to deal with; I hope that they will supply me with reproductions of the pages without charging obscene prices.

I shall visit my old college, and go and sit in the gardens at a wall seat where Tolkien used to sit and where we sometimes had bible studies when I was there.  It was 1983 when I left, and somehow this is more than 25 years ago!  Those unlined young faces that I see in memory now have children of their own, and where are they all now, that jolly company?  I remember sunlight in the gardens as if it was yesterday.  I remember playing croquet on the lawn, all unawares that such things would come to an end and a life much less agreeable follow.  I remember sitting in my room overlooking St. Albans Quad — how I remember that room! — and listening to voices rehearsing a production of the Wizard of Oz in the gardens; and playing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on my HiFi, which I had obtained by pure coincidence at the same time. 

I shall walk down the High street, and into Cornmarket.  But however hard I look, I will not see the faces of friends; everyone will be a stranger.  It will be like taking a time-machine to your own past; everything is the same as you remember, but you no longer belong.  For we are all gone, the Grecians of my day, gone to other things, to pay bills and walk the treadmill of life.  In the streets will be a new generation, as heedless as we; and they too will pass away as we have done.  Sic transit gloria mundi.

6 thoughts on “From my diary

  1. Thanks for this post, Roger. Your description of how it feels to revisit Oxford is so similar to the way I feel about it. “It will be like taking a time-machine to your own past; everything is the same as you remember, but you no longer belong.” When I was there for a conference at Lincoln College last year, I went out for wistful walks late at night. More recently, we invited old Oxford friends to join us there and that made a difference.

    By the way, why not try the park and ride — free to park and only £1 or so to get in, right to the centre? Can’t imagine it’s worth paying £20 to park in the centre. Or the City Link / Tube / Train would be much cheaper than £40 petrol, right?

    Hope you have a great time in Oxford, Roger.

  2. Thank you for your note, and good wishes.

    I too remember Oxford at night. Walking along the Turl, going back down a quiet Merton street in search of some friend who might be up late and happy to see a visitor and talk about Russian composers or whatever; looking out from my window and seeing the moon and stars bright above the college… Do you remember the deathburger vans in the Broad? I don’t know where they park today.

    Park-and-Ride: I’m afraid I get motion-sick on buses. Since I have a load of books with me, it would be impractical anyway.

    I used to use the trains when I was young, and indeed liked doing so. But today they are merely an extended misery of exhaustion and discomfort. For this reason I almost never go into London, now that it is impossible to drive. And of course they are very expensive these days.

    And … you know, I have this sneaking feeling that I just don’t LIKE what is being done here. In 1910 the rich and powerful had cars, and everyone else had to use the dirty and crowded buses and trains. The arrival of mass motoring freed the ordinary man. Do we really want to return to the situation where the poor are taxed off the roads for the convenience of the privileged? It is morally wrong to do this. The rich and powerful do not use public transport, after all!

  3. Thanks for the interesting comments. Yes, I remember the deathburger vans. They appeared to have relocated to St Giles when I was there a few weeks ago. I never used to eat from them back in the day because I was a vegetarian then.

    I understand what you are saying about public transport. I am, in general, a massive fan of buses and trains, all the more so since moving to the USA where no one much travels by bus or train. I like being able to get somewhere while reading and having a nice nap — but I am one of the lucky ones for whom that comes easily. Great point about the rich and powerful, though. I suppose the only thing worth adding there is that some of those rich and powerful are on the commuter trains and the tubes.

  4. There was a cartoon in one of the student publications of a student complaining to an unshaven character in one of those vans, “Excuse me, but my deathburger has just eaten the tomato”…

    There’s a Sainsburys in St. Giles, next to a Waterstones. When I was in Oxford for the Patristics conference a couple of years ago I went down there one evening to get a few things. It was uncommonly like being back at college, the bustle in the streets and all the students in the queue!

    I know what you mean about relaxing train journeys. When I was a student I used to like taking the train. It was less tiring than driving, and the price wasn’t unreasonable. Taking a bike on one could be a challenge, tho! One experienced the British Rail charm school at full force.

    You will be amused to learn that a train strike starts in my region at 12 midnight tonight, of all improbable things to do in a recession.

    I remember taking the train from New York to Boston in 1984. I have no negative memories of it, so it can’t have been too bad!

  5. Ha ha on that cartoon. Ah yes, I’ve seen that new Sainsbury’s — and bought my Yorkshire tea there to bring back to the US. I did get the chance to take the train a couple of times while in England recently and really enjoyed it. I must give American trains a go some time. I’d love to take a really long journey on a train across America some time.

  6. Ah, but to really appreciate America you ought to drive a truck across it. Preferably while wearing a Burt Reynolds moustache (or so I am told). 🙂

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